Educate Your Boss about CAD Management

13 Jun, 2017 By: Robert Green

CAD Manager Column: Your senior management team can’t give you the support you need unless they understand what you do. Here’s how to make it clear — in their language.

I recently asked my Facebook group, CAD Managers Unite! what the most difficult part of being a CAD manager is. I then waited a few days while group members posted their problems and vented their emotions. As has been the case for many, many years, the number one source of frustration cited was senior management’s lack of understanding. There were also several sub-issues mentioned which stem from the primary problem; more on those shortly.

What I’ve observed during my career is that senior management won’t understand CAD management unless I teach them about it. In this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter, I’ll share some insights and strategies I’ve used during my career to cajole, educate, and energize senior management staffs into understanding more about CAD management. Here goes.

Why They Don’t Get It

Q. Why doesn’t senior management understand what you do?
A. Because you’re doing such a good job that they don’t have to!

There's an old saying that goes, “If it ain’t broke, don't fix it.” We could reword this for our senior managers by saying, “If they don’t need to understand it, they won’t spend the time to understand it.” Simply put, our bosses don’t understand what we do because they trust us to do the job and — unless we fail — everything works well, so they concentrate on other concerns.

Once we accept that senior management’s understanding of our job will be nearly nil unless we act, we can start the gradual process of convincing them that they should care about what we do, and educating them about how it all works.

Why We Must Educate

Several of the sub-complaints I received about lack of senior management understanding revolve around the standards process — specifically, lack of enforcement. Statements such as, “Management lets our engineers violate the standards” or “Management doesn’t get that standards are no good without enforcement” are the most common.

Q. Are the two statements above standards problems?
A. No, they are senior management problems!

In the examples I cited, the standards already exist, but are being undermined by senior management’s casual attitude toward them. In my experience, it all comes down to the fact that senior management simply doesn’t understand the value of standards, which begs this question:

Q. Who is going to educate senior management on the value of enforcing standards?
A. The CAD manager and nobody else!

The task now becomes helping your bosses see that standards are in their best interest and that they really should help you enforce them — which brings us neatly to our next topic.

Are You Making Yourself Clear?

Let’s say you’re trying to explain to your boss why it is so critical that people follow your AutoCAD plotting standards. Here are two options for how you can do so:

Option 1: “When people put objects on the wrong layer, the BYLAYER color functionality maps the entities to the wrong pen number in the plotter’s internal buffer, which means incorrect pen weights and masking parameters are applied. This forces us to analyze the drawing to reset the layer parameters correctly, using a variety of LISP tools we’ve created in-house.”

Option 2: “When people don’t follow our AutoCAD layer standards, our drawings don’t plot correctly. This causes us project delays and costs hours of rework time. In other words, we waste a ton of money fixing drawings and plots simply because people don’t follow instructions.”

You tell me: Which option will your boss understand? The funny thing is that both options say exactly the same thing, just with different emphasis, which leads me to the golden rule of explaining CAD management to your boss.

Un-Geek How You Speak

In the scenario above, I explained the same problem in two ways: technical and financial. Option 1 was loaded with jargon — “geek speak” that many CAD users may not even follow, so how in the world could you expect a senior manager to follow the conversation? Option 2 neatly summarized the connection between standards and rework costs, which every senior manager understands the importance of.

Here are some tips you can use to ungeek the way you speak to your senior management:

  • Show that you have clear instructions and processes in place. Help your boss see that you understand the problem and have a solution, but that users are ignoring it.
  • Stress how reasonable the standard is. Say something like, “We’re not telling anybody how to design a building, or killing their creativity. We’re just asking them to put the walls on a certain layer — this isn’t complicated.”
  • Imply stubbornness. After you’ve explained that you have easy-to-use standards that are perfectly reasonable, your boss will figure out that people are simply being stubborn in not following them.
  • Close the argument with cost. E=mc2 may be a brilliant equation, but where senior management is concerned, it pales in comparison to Time=Money. If your superiors see that not putting entities on the right layer costs $500 per project in rework, they will immediately use their authority to start enforcing standards, because they want to save money.

This plain-language approach to explaining your problem, backed with financial metrics, is the only way I’ve ever found to get senior management on my side. Senior managers don't much care about the specifics of technology, so I don’t talk much about it. What senior managers do care about is getting work done at the lowest cost possible — and that’s why this approach works.

Work Gradually and Focus on Money

As you tackle every CAD management issue, from purchasing hardware to implementing new software to training users, continue to use the Un-Geek methodology of explaining what you’re doing to your senior managers. Over a period of months, you’ll find that your boss will learn a lot about CAD management, even though he or she never set out to do so. Try these methods, which I’ve used to build an educational rapport with senior management staffs:

  • Weekly reporting. A one-page report of what you’ve done over the past week — in plain language — shows your boss the value of CAD management activities.
  • Training justifications. Provide a brief synopsis of what you need to teach CAD users, and the time savings that can be reaped by having users who make fewer errors. This type of conversation uses the time-is-money argument, logically adapted for training.
  • Budget involvement. Weigh in on departmental budgets by focusing on solving time-wasting problems. Don’t say “We want new computers”; instead, say “Upgraded workstations will allow us to complete a typical project 20 hours faster, which equals $1,000 in savings at our user labor rates.” (Your numbers will vary, but the financial approach will not.)

If your boss receives a regular stream of communication from you that illustrates the financial benefit of CAD management, he or she will eventually come to value you and what you do. It really is that simple.

Summing Up

I hope this edition of the CAD Manager’s Newsletter has helped you understand how you can educate your boss about CAD management via accessible, financially focused dialogue. I’ve found that establishing a rapport with senior management staffs has only made my job easier; I think you’ll find the same to be true at your place of business. So think about how you can start teaching your boss about CAD management, then let the education begin. And be sure to let me know how it goes at Until next time.

About the Author: Robert Green

Robert Green

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